A lot can happen in the 236 days between Monday night, when Alabama beat Georgia for its fifth national title in nine seasons, and Sept. 1, when the Crimson Tide begins its championship defense against Louisville in Orlando. Some underclassmen will declare for the NFL draft. Others will transfer. An assistant coach or two could be lured away. But assuming that a sizable chunk of Alabama’s roster will remain the same, we have some sobering if wholly unsurprising news for the rest of college football: The Crimson Tide is going to be quite good again next season, too.
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who came on in the second half and led Alabama to victory: He’s a freshman.
Jalen Hurts, the two-year starter whom Tagovailoa replaced: sophomore.
Najee Harris, who averaged 10.7 yards per carry: freshman.
DeVonta Smith, who caught the game-winning touchdown pass in overtime: freshman.
Henry Ruggs III, who scored Alabama’s first touchdown of the game in the third quarter: freshman.
Mack Wilson, who had a team-high 12 tackles, two of them for a loss: sophomore.
Standout underclassmen such as wide receiver Calvin Ridley, defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick and defensive lineman Da’Ron Payne seem likely to depart for first-round NFL draft riches, and it won’t matter. Shortly after game’s end Monday night, the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook installed Alabama as a 3-1 favorite to repeat as national champion.
This is what happens when a program refuses to have a down year in recruiting. Alabama has ranked first in 247 Sports’ composite rankings in every year since 2011, and the last year the Tide did not take the top spot — it was No. 4 in 2010 — those recruits promptly helped Alabama win consecutive BCS titles in 2011 and 2012. Take Alabama’s defense: After their ranks were depleted by NFL departures, seven Crimson Tide linebackers who either were starters or key contributors missed at least one game because of injury during the regular season. In total, Alabama’s defensive players missed 35 starts, one year after they missed only four, yet the Crimson Tide still led the nation in defensive S&P+ rating, a measure of overall efficiency.
“I strongly believe we never take a step back,” linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton, who suffered a season-ending kneecap injury in November, told 247 Sports after Alabama’s win over Clemson in the national semifinals. “All we do is reload. We recruit great guys here and great players. When your number is called, you have to be ready. … Ever since I went down guys have taken it upon themselves to do what they need to do so we can play to the standard.”